11 March 2013


Much political and cultural weight rests on the pillar of the reading that the Christian Bible condemns abortion.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist, whose analysis of Evangelical culture is well-informed and sharply observed, recounts that this idea was a sudden and recent development

At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.

Even more interesting is how thoroughly the record has been rewritten. We have always been at war with Eastasia.


They all now believe that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. They believe this absolutely, unambiguously, firmly, resolutely and loudly. That’s what they believed 10 years ago, and that’s what they believed 20 years ago.

But it wasn’t what they believed 30 years ago. Thirty years ago they all believed quite the opposite.

Infamous Brad Hicks explains the theology of what they once believed, and why.

In plain English (and equally plain Hebrew, I'm told), the Bible says that even in cases where the pregnancy is terminated against the woman's will in a criminal assault, it's treated as a property crime, with the penalty being nothing more than a monetary fine negotated between the assailants and the woman's husband. Compare and contrast that with the penalty for murder (death), and then tell me that the Bible would treat the death of even, to use an unspeakably tired current example, “Connor” Peterson as a murder. If God thinks that killing a fetus is murder, why make the penalty so light and trivial?

Answer: because the Bible says when human life begins, when a person first obtains a soul, when that person has rights that must be respected. It doesn't say this out-right, but the implication is pretty plain, and it's the only interpretation that's compatible with the rest of the Biblical legal code. Consider the creation of mankind in Genesis chapter 2, and let me specifically call your attention to Genesis chapter 2, verse 7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Pay attention to the sequence there. When God made Adam from the dust of the ground, Adam was no six-week fetus. He wasn't even a newborn. Adam was a full-grown adult human being, and yet he had no soul until he drew his first breath. And that is why, until abortion became a political issue again around a hundred years ago and people went digging in the scriptures to try to find a reason to hate it, it was an assumed fact of religious law that the soul enters the body at birth. Indeed, it was long assumed on this same Biblical basis that the “death rattle,” the rattling sound in the throat of many dying people as they exhale for the last time, was the sound of the soul leaving the body, and it was for this very reason that many Christian theologians were deeply disturbed when mouth-to-mouth rescusitation was invented.

That's from a five-part series, Christians In The Hands of an Angry God, in which Hicks details the history, theology, and the politics of the change in Evangelical culture which Clark is talking about. And Clark offers an additional explanation of the emergence of Evangelicals as a political force which is even more unflattering than Brad's.

Jill Filipovick writes about this at The Nation in the context of a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage

Numerous commentators, most notably at The New York Times, have expressed concern that a broad ruling on marriage equality could turn into the next Roe v. Wade, igniting decades-long culture wars and damaging public perception of the Supreme Court. Better to rule narrowly, they say, and let the states follow the emerging trajectory towards marriage equality.

That argument, though, is not only totally ahistorical, but dangerous for both civil rights and the Court’s credibility.

Contrary to the current mythology, Roe didn’t incite the culture wars, and before the case was decided in 1973, the right to abortion across the fifty states was far from a foregone conclusion. As Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel detail in their book Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, an organized, primarily Catholic Church–backed anti-abortion movement existed in force before Roe. Although abortion rights were initially championed by Republicans and favored by a majority of Americans, social conservatives saw an opening to exploit for political gain. According to Greenhouse, before the Court decided Roe, conservative architects of the “New Right” had already decided to use opposition to abortion as part of a strategy for party realignment that would come to fruition with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. “New Right” leaders sought to bring Catholics and into the party and politicize Evangelicals to form a coalition of traditionalists based on hostility to progress and change.

Abortion was hardly their only issue. The new conservative coalition opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, claiming that gender equality would destroy the family and send our daughters to war. They stoked white voters’ fears of full racial integration with racist tropes about black criminals and welfare queens. Those narratives and appeals to tradition continue today, with social conservatives hoping for a return to a gauzy vision of Good Old Days America before the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s—and before women, people of color, religious minorities and other marginalized groups were able to secure a full range of rights.

A different ruling in Roe—or none at all—wouldn’t have prevented a Republican Party realignment that was already underway. It wouldn’t have prevented abortion, and the rights of women and other traditionally disempowered groups, from becoming controversial political issues. But a Roe-free United States would almost certainly mean a United States wherein abortion laws were wildly varied, with women in many parts of the country having no legal right to abortion at all. Similarly, even though Brown v. Board of Education inspired an immediate backlash from Southern racists, it’s tough to argue that without court intervention, racial integration of public schools and other facilities would be better without Brown than the (admittedly lacking) state of racial equality today.

Perhaps the fundamental question is: Is securing civil rights through the courts worth the backlash? Or is it better for marginalized groups to push for their rights incrementally, avoid the glare of national politics and hash things out at the state level?

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